President Obama is expected to announce today a new initiative by the Environmental Protection Agency to reduce the United States' carbon dioxide emissions by 30 percent from their 2005 levels by 2030. The plan, according to the New York Times, would be "the strongest actions ever taken by the United States government to fight climate change."

The plan would primarily focus on the nation's 600-odd coal plants, long contended by climatologists as the leading source of greenhouse gas emissions. According to the Wall Street Journal, states will be given options to cut their respective coal pollution:

The rule, scheduled to be completed one year from now, will give flexibility to the states, which must implement the rules and submit compliance plans to EPA by June 2016. States can decide how to meet the reductions, including joining or creating new cap-and-trade programs, deploying more renewable energy or ramping up energy-efficiency technologies.

Obama failed to pass a climate change bill during his first term, but is now acting on the authority of the Clean Air Act, which allows the EPA to regulate greenhouse gases. The plan is expected to receive considerable congressional resistance from conservatives and coal companies. From the New York Times:

Scott Segal, a lawyer with the firm Bracewell & Giuliani, which represents coal companies and plans to sue over the rule, wrote in an email, "Clearly, it is designed to materially damage the ability of conventional energy sources to provide reliable and affordable power, which in turn can inflict serious damage on everything from household budgets to industrial jobs."

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, meanwhile, issued a report last week that the new plan could impact the nation's gross domestic product by as much as $50 billion. The EPA counters that the public health benefits (and savings) make the measure worthwhile. From the Washington Post:

The EPA estimates that the new rule would cut traditional air pollutants such as sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and soot by 25 percent, according to those who have been briefed, yielding a public health benefit of between $55 billion to $93 billion when it is fully implemented with 2,700 to 6600 premature deaths avoided and 140,000 to 150,000 asthma attacks a year avoided. The cost, by contrast, would be $7.3 billion to $8.8 billion.

This plan's announcement comes ahead of the United Nations General Assembly this fall, where countries are expected to sign a global climate change treaty. The U.S. and key Asian countries are the world's leading polluters. From the Times:

Over the long term, the United States has been the world's largest emitter of carbon pollution, but today China is the largest, with India and other developing Asian countries poised to see an explosion in their carbon pollution in the coming years as millions of people join the middle class and begin enjoying cheap coal-fired electricity.

[Image via AP]